Colorado

Yesterday marked two places in time for me: the halfway, one-week mark of this road trip, and the two-week anniversary of being a college graduate.

Time is still aggressive. It charges on unashamedly, creating justice by ensuring that each day is the same length as the one before and the one after. While I’m satisfied with the amount of people, places and activities we’ve crammed into a week, I feel like I’m still stretching one arm backwards to a period of my life that is just getting further and further away.

IMG_6535But enter Colorado. The story is changing a little bit while I’m here (it’s fortunately a four-day stop – quite the relief from long car rides). On Friday, we crossed the border from Kansas only to discover that eastern Colorado actually looks the same as Kansas does. Surprise. But by nighttime, we reached Fort Collins and one of my best friends Kelly’s house, which fortunately rests near the foothills of the Rockies.

Her family cooked us dinner and then we went to bed pretty quickly, which was necessary to wake up at 2:55 a.m. for a sunrise hike. We started up a mountain in the dark close to 4 a.m. and made it to the peak by the time the sun had started to rise. It was absolutely spectacular. Behind us was a snow-capped mountain range, and in front of us was a town with all of its streetlights still lit and more mountains and floating mist and a reservoir reflecting the colors in the sky and clouds covered in shades of gold and pink that I just hadn’t quite seen before.
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We hiked back down, seeing the mountain in the light this time. We ate brunch, took a nap, and then went on brewery tours around Fort Collins. And then yesterday we went to church at a coffee shop dedicated to serving Christ using a coffee counter as a relational conduit and then laid under the sun (and some formidable rain clouds) in a park. And then we said goodbye to our good friend Kelly, who will leave for Mozambique as a Peace Corps volunteer in September, and drove to Denver.

In Denver, we are staying in a friend’s little downtown bungalow while both she and her roommate aren’t there. Last night we explored downtown Denver and then this morning headed for coffee shops – separately and without telling each other where we were going – for some alone time. And all three of us ended up at the same coffee shop, go figure.

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We have been on the road for over a week and have yet to stay in a single hotel. Friends across the country have opened their doors to us – friends from high school, friends from college and friends of friends that we barely know or don’t know at all. We will meet up with more friends as our journey continues, who will just happen to be in the same place as us or who will just happen to be on our way. It’s nothing but a blessing to have so many friends across the country.

It’s still sad I won’t be waking up in the same house or the same town as these friends anymore, and I don’t know if that will ever stop being sad. But the friend whose house we’re staying in here in Denver is an older, very wise friend, and has spoken truth to me on many occasions since my freshman year of college. I can go through every year of college and remember words she spoke to me that I am unlikely to ever forget.

I’ll only write about this year’s words, because they’re very relevant right now. The day I graduated, she told me that the best is yet to come. And this means a lot coming from her, because she lived college in the best way she knew how. She poured into everything she did, and I know that because I did a lot of those things with and after her and felt like I had a legacy to follow. Looking around her little bungalow, I see dozens of photos of her and her college friends and know that she loved her friends and her college experience as much as I loved mine.

IMG_6558But still, she told me the best is yet to come. And I think the story of Colorado is that I’m starting to believe that, or at least that what comes next will be equally as good. It’s a big world out there. There’s an endless amount of places to visit, people to meet and experiences to be had. I can look forward to finding a job that I’m passionate about, to experiencing a new culture and community, or even to living in a downtown bungalow. And yes, I guess I can even be excited about meeting new people and making new friends – although I’m still pretty stubbornly saying I like the old ones.

So as I start to lean in and accept this next phase of life, I want to take with me one major lesson I learned as an undergraduate: Things rarely go the way I want them to or the way I planned. But if they had, my life wouldn’t be as good as it is now. This is a lesson I’m trying to keep in mind as I have new ideas and plans every single day about where I want to go and what I want to do. I’m at a turning point, and there’s a direction that I’ll go in, but for now it’s good enough to stand at the crossroads and look around and enjoy the view. It’s a place to smile at what’s behind while eagerly trying to steal a glance at what’s ahead. And today, it’s a place to be deeply satisfied that I have friends in faraway places – good friends – and that I get to experience those faraway places.

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Leaving

(written May 20)

A little bit after noon today, I left North Carolina.

With my two friends, Bri and Jillian, in the car, I wove through the Smoky Mountains along the highway that ribbons through them. We almost ran out of gas and pulled over as semi-trucks blew past us to talk a selfie in front of the Tennessee welcome sign. The mountains towered above and around us, giving us an awareness of our own smallness.

I left home today indefinitely – the home that has been made for me over the past four years. The home that is a state, a university, a town, but more importantly a home that is filled with people who really care about and for me.

Our first stop on the trip was at Windy Gap, the Young Life camp that I have spent dozens of nights at over the past few years. We went for the tail end of Work Week, which is where volunteers come and prepare the camp for a crazy summer of campers, and for our good friend Haley’s birthday. I spent the day shoveling and raking dirt around, putting medicine on the hooves of horses and then painting a roof.

At night, we had club – if you know anything about Young Life, this doesn’t surprise you at all. The speaker brought up the concept of God creating our stories as we go and asked what he had done in each of our stories that week.

I had only been there a night, but it was a good question. He asked exactly a week after I graduated from college, moved out of my house and said goodbye to my friends one by one. It was my second to last night in the state and the first night of a two-week road trip that is bound to be a great adventure.

He also brought up a point I have thought a lot about this past semester. It seems to make a whole lot of sense to me to think of our lives as one long story and of God as the Storyteller. And he’s the kind of storyteller that knows what he’s doing – he knows how to connect seemingly unrelated events, how to keep you at the edge of your seat and how to make insignificant plots into masterpieces. Looking at my story thus far and believing in God’s storytelling abilities gives me a lot of confidence in the future.

But for this past week, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. If I had to define it, I would say it’s been a sad story, but the heartwarming kind. It’s been full of tears and goodbyes and change, and time has been an aggressive character that shows no mercy to those begging for it to slow down. But it’s also been a week full of love and friendship and excitement. Although it’s been a week of endings, it’s also a week of beginnings and doorways into the future. And that feels like adventure.

Sitting in the passenger seat on the road somewhere in Tennessee, I’m realizing my story right now is about the unknown. It’s about leaning into discomfort and uncertainty, but also into the hidden joys of the day-to-day. It’s about the Smoky Mountains and the Rocky Mountains and a brewery by the river in Asheville. It’s about new friends, about old friends and good music.

If our stories last for decades, it would be a shame if the Storyteller didn’t shake things up every so often. Some page changes are more dramatic than others, and this seems to be one of them. I don’t know what two weeks or two months or two years from now looks like, but I do know that I’m stuck in a car with a giant pile of my belongings and two people who I love a lot, and so I really like today’s story. And really, I think that’s all we can ask for.

I want to end this with someone else’s words that have rung true for a few of my friends in this phase of life. Here’s a quote from Donald Miller, who’s become one of my favorite authors.

“And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you, about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it? It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out. I want to repeat one word for you: Leave. Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.”

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Windy Gap Young Life camp, North Carolina

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Blue Ridge Parkway, NC

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The Wedge Brewery, Asheville, NC

The finale

When I remember today, it’s going to be visually.

I’ll look back on all of the details – the giant blow-up dolphin that my friends carried with us around Kenan Stadium so that our parents could easily pick us out in the crowd, the way the sun and sweat felt under the intense sunlight, taking photos with all my journalism friends and professors, and even my sister sleeping on my floor as I wrote last minute thank-you cards.

IMG_6159When you make movies or tell stories, the details make them pop, but what you really want to know are themes. And then you have to figure how to get those themes across and to make people feel what you felt and know what you knew. And all storytellers know that for people to care enough to continue on reading or watching or listening, the storyteller has to hook his or her audience right at the beginning.

So today’s story starts at the end. The whirlwind of events, people, faces, photos, caps, gowns and Carolina blue came to a grinding halt about ten minutes ago, when it really hit home what all of this actually means. It happened under the golden glow of strands of Christmas lights, arching over the parking lot of the house my seven best friends and I have lived in for the past year.

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Our house decorated for our graduation party

It happened underneath those lights as most of the rest of us lined up on the porch and watched our friend drive away; when we stood as she backed out, did a three-point turn and then rolled down the window. It happened as we waved goodbye and then watched her drive down our gravel driveway, into the next phase of our lives.

We’re told that humans are made to desire eternity; something about the way we are wired makes us want good things to last forever, despite knowing that new good things await us as we move forward.

We know this, but my house still feels empty now, even after a day of being filled with friends and family members. We woke up this morning as a house of Carolina students, and now we’re going to bed in different places as graduates.

IMG_6991The point all of the graduation speakers tried to gently make for us throughout the day makes sense. I know we have great things ahead; that these four years have equipped us all to go into the world with the vitality our college experience has given us. And we all know that leaving something great behind is sad, and no one tells us that it isn’t, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.

This day is ending as abruptly as the chapter of life for which it is the finale. I’m reeling, and I don’t think I’ll stop reeling. And then I have one more night and I’m gone too, and I’ll be driving across the country a few days after that.

If we’re being honest, I’m still reeling from freshman year, and sophomore year, and junior year and senior year and a few months ago and a few weeks ago. These chunks of time ended and didn’t end – I’ve taken things from all of them and am still taking and processing and figuring out what it all means and how I’m actually going to be an adult now.

Last week, I read about the two different kinds of time. In the Greek language, Chronos means time in a quantitative sense, in a chronological sense, time that can be measured and divided into units. It’s the word we use when we ask what time it is, what time we have to be somewhere or how much time has passed.

But there’s another word for time – kairos, which means time in a qualitative sense. It’s immeasurable, characterized only by what happens in it. It’s what is meant when we say things like “it’s time to move on” or “I had a good time” or “I think it’s time for a change.”

IMG_7162There will never be the right words to describe in a kairos sense what these past four years have meant. As a writer, I think words are pretty useful, but sometimes things can be only told with visuals. And the ones that will somehow define this time of my life in a kairos sense are the ones of us all sitting on the couch together tonight; of laughter and tears and back porches and hugs and waves and pretty lights.

I hope you can read this and know what it means because you have loved something or someone just as much as I have, and you understand that love just is. You can talk about love all the time, but love is understood by expressions, by feelings and by the sadness that accompanies a goodbye.

I can go forward with the certainty that my time – kairos time – here was good. Like all things, it has come to an end, and that’s hard. But I will forever cherish the memories I made, the things I learned and the life-long friends who love me and were by my side through it all. Here’s to being a college graduate.

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